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Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 4:34 pm
by countvoncount
An old chestnut, I know, but I would like to know what people think. Eric Jackson recently posted a video about his using a 202 cm paddle (and he's on the short side), basically saying that people were using too short paddles these days. When I last bought a paddle, I went for a shortish blade for my height, in part because I wanted a bent paddle shaft and on the longer paddles, the bent bits felt too far apart. But now I am wondering whether the shortness of the paddle inhibits my forward paddling (by shortening the catch). I also find myself wanting to switch to a narrower grip when flatwater forward paddling, which may be related to paddle length or not.
So, what length of paddle do people use for WW boating and/or slalom? Do others have the same problem concerning the positioning of ergonomic cranks on bent shafts? And how wide/narrow is your grip (I see huge differences in this when watching other paddlers--but I am not sure what the advantages really are)?

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 8:41 pm
by Franky
I've tried using a 200 cm paddle and it felt much too wide for me. I'm shortish (5' 7") but have long arms. I use a 197 cm paddle and it feels just right.

I find a shorter paddle is better for vertical power strokes.

My grip is quite wide most of the time - I feel I have more control that way. Sometimes I narrow my grip for more power, but I find this is at the expense of control, and it is more tiring.

As you say, paddling styles differ considerably. For me the only metric is how comfortable a paddle feels. It's just like choosing a boat - it's very individual, but if it feels right, it is right.

PS Re. cranked shafts - I've never got on with these as they don't allow you to vary your hand positions. Plus, they just feel strange to me. Any benefits in the realm of reducing wrist strain seem to me offset by discomfort and restrictiveness.

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:06 am
by Chalky723
I'm 5'9" & use a 197cm paddle & it feels fine.

My hands are generally shoulder width apart. If I did that with a longer paddle, the blade would be deeper and the handle would be in the water too - no point. At the moment I can fully submerse the blade - why would I need to go deeper? If I need to extend more to a side, I slide my hands along.....


Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:27 am
by Strad
I would say once you've paddled enough to make the call you can decide on whether you want to go a little longer or shorter to decrease / increase stroke rate to what suits you. There's no precise fit other than what works for you

I use 204s on WW, 200s on surf, but I'm a 6'4" gorilla.

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:44 am
by Terryg
As usual, it depends what you are using it for, and what works for you.

A few rules of thumb:

Compared to gears in a car, a longer shaft is equivalent to a high gear, a shorter shaft is equivalent to a low gear. Are you wanting to accelerate or cruise?
A large blade area is your higher gear, a small blade area is your lower gear.

For efficient paddling, your top arm should be level with your shoulder when you are in the middle of a power stroke, at this point the blade should be immersed to where it joins the shaft.
This dictates the length of the shaft from your shoulder to water level, and may vary with different boats.

For distance between hands, the old system of holding the paddle horizontal above your head, and then positioning your hands so that your elbows are at 90 degrees still applies.

Start with these basic rules of thumb, then adjust for the type of paddling you are doing and what works for you.
e.g. a white water paddler will normally go with a slightly longer shaft to allow for waves and troughs. A play boater will probable go for a shorter paddle for manoeuvrability.

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:18 pm
by Poke
I'm 6'3" and have used paddles as short as 187cm on occasion (I love glass werner powerhouses, but the only issue with them is that they wear down, and I'm too tight to buy new ones).

I'm sure I paddled Fairy Glen on a fairly chunky flow with a set that had worn down to 192cm or so. That felt like a bad idea during the event, but I suspect that was more a function of blade area rather than paddle length.

Borrowed a pair of brand new 200's fairly soon after and they just felt unwieldy as they were "so long".

So, as others have said, there's no "right" choice - just go with whatever feels comfortable.

Having said that, if you use a set of blades for long enough that are approximately right, I'm sure that you'd get used to them (I'm sure I would have got used to the 200's if Id stuck with them).

IMO people often seem to get hung up on what kit is "right". You're much better off sticking with something and getting how it handles dialled in(*), than repeatedly updating kit and having to get used to a new design all over again every x months.

(*) unless it's actually really bad (eg, big heavy 90° Schlegel paddles from the 1980's).

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:41 pm
by countvoncount
Thanks for all the helpful info. I get the "use what you like" advice--I am an experienced paddler, and have been using my (quite short, and now quite worn-down) blades very happily for quite a few years, and chose them because I liked the feel of them. But I did trial a longer set of blades recently and noticed that they change my stroke quite considerably---the catch seems to be further forward, for instance--and that they offer a bigger lever for pivot turns initiated on a draw stroke and for some other types of stroke. So I thought I would try to understand this better--though I get that there is no absolute right or wrong here.
Still: I would be curious to know what paddling coaches advocate, both for the width of grip and length of paddle. When I watch professional slalom races, the blades look very long to me, especially given that some of these paddlers are quite slight in built (I am 6'2'', by contrast).

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 4:29 pm
by Adrian Cooper
I'm not offering an answer here but it is worth bearing in mind that dedicated slalom paddlers will work on building significant muscle strength to enable good use of larger blades and maybe longer shafts. In this context we often recommend people only opt for large blade areas like the Powerhouse, if they have the strength to use them.

There has been discussion on here in the past about a possible trend by US paddlers to place their hands closer together than UK paddlers. Whether this is a 'thing' or not probably remains in debate.

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 6:00 pm
by countvoncount
Thanks Adrian. I did a search on the site, and found a whole "Narrow Grip" thread. It seems to me that I am one of those paddlers who naturally has a slightly narrower grip--which explains my cranks issue. The "holding the paddle over my head and bending my elbows to 90 degrees" method described by Terryg, gives me a super-wide grip, with my hands being as much as a 95-100 cm apart; my natural position is closer to 70-75 cm--quite a difference (it's funny, incidentally, that we often talk about a shoulder-width grip, which would be very narrow indeed). This implies I may be ill-served by cranked shafts, if I want a longer blade.

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:09 pm
by Jim
My "Flat" sea kayak paddles are 215cm, although I may not use them any more...
My wings get set to 208cm for WWR or 210cm for sea kayak racing (because the boat is wider) - at 212cm I start to really feel a difference on my shoulders but 210 seems anough to compensate for the extra width.
My slalom paddle is 198cm the same as I have been using for WW and playboating for many years. I suspect if I had adjustable slalom or WW paddles I would probably have experimented with length and maybe be up to 202 or more by now, although I already struggle to miss the gates with the top blade, so maybe I would be better staying compact for neatness?
My Schlegels were 208cm, but that was many years ago, pretty sure I went to 198cm in one move and stuck with it.

My C1/OC1 paddles are perhaps the biggest surprise, I have tried lots of lengths and several kinds of boats but I'm happiest with 146-147cm (or 57-1/2" as canoe paddles are normally sized) in all boats - OC1, slalom C1, WWR C1 and my 16' open canoe... Common sense says that some of those will need difeerent lengths!

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:10 pm
by jamesl2play
If you are keen to understand the mechanics of the forward stroke there is an excellent video on You Tube of Ivan Lawler teaching a paddle clinic
at Richmond Canoe Club. I would post the link if I knew how.

I am not saying all that he says applies to white water. You would have to decide what parts are relevant to you.
He goes in to great depth on how to hold the paddle and work out width of grip etc.

For what its worth I agree totally with what TerryG says above.

I use a 90 90 45 formula.
You start the stroke with a 90 deg angle under your armpit, a 90 deg angle between you forearm and bicep and then a 45 deg angle for your forearm forward from
your elbow. If that makes sense.

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:54 pm
by countvoncount
Jim--just out if interest, how tall are you?

jamesl2play--thanks for the advice! Is this the clip?

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 10:17 pm
by jamesl2play
Yes that is it, well part of it.
The complete video has been split into various sections now. The original video is over an hour long.

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 2:34 pm
by Jim
countvoncount wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:54 pm
Jim--just out if interest, how tall are you?
Not sure maybe 5'10, less than 6' for sure. Definitely too short for my weight.

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:40 pm
by Adrian Cooper
Jim, it's always a height problem, not a weight problem. It's the issue with BMI.

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Fri Sep 13, 2019 9:36 am
by Jim
BMI is meaningless, but I could definitely still lose 20kg.

Re: Kayak Paddle Length and width of grip

Posted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 8:50 am
by Simon
In this discussion, it's not just paddler size and arm length that matters, it's boat type - especially boat length. Longer paddles for longer boats. The analogy of car gearing posted above is spot on. A Porche grand tourer will have different gear ratios to a Land Rover for the same driver. Similarly a short surf boat or playboat will suit shorter paddle shaft lengths than a longer faster river touring boat.

The same paddler might need different paddles for different boats if they are markedly different in waterline length. And discussions like this are pointless unless you quote the boat type you are using as well as your body size.

And for this reason I think the videos produced for long racing kayaks are almost useless for short WW boat paddlers, in fact they can be counterproductive in teaching irrelevant concepts

I think blade size/area is more related to power and strength than boat/arm length. Steady low power endurance touring needs a low blade area, types of boating needing frequent powerful acceleration/deceleration like slalom need a larger blade area. It's also good to have smaller blade areas for paddlers with lower strength (women, younger paddlers), as reducing blade area can be a good thing if you find paddling to be very tiring. It stops you overworking the muscles.